While, based on many economic indicators, NH appears to be doing very well overall, many residents are struggling due to an affordable housing shortage, limited access to health care services, a lack of equitable educational opportunities and incomes that have not kept pace with the rising cost of living.
Despite a relatively high statewide median household income, now estimated at around $75,000, one in three NH households have annual incomes of less than $50,000 annually. One in five households have less than $35,000 in annual income. While incomes have grown for many higher income earners in recent years, those at the middle and lower end of the wage spectrum have seen limited income growth, and many have lost purchasing power that they had prior to the recession.
Data released last fall shows NH is one of only nine states with a statistically significant increase in income inequality in the past year, further demonstrating the wide variation in economic security among Granite Staters.
The ability to maintain stable housing, address health care needs and access quality education all contribute to economic stability and social mobility. Yet access to each is uneven, which, combined with income inequality, creates barriers to opportunity throughout NH. Some efforts are underway to increase equity in each of these areas.
The state budget provides some of the most significant investments in local public education in nearly two decades. The budget directs additional resources to communities with more low-income families and a limited ability to raise local resources. This approach takes meaningful steps toward creating a more equitable funding structure. However, many of these resources are only one-time investments, and funding for future years may be determined by recommendations from the newly established Commission to Study School Funding, which will issue a report in September.
Education is key to economic stability and social mobility. The state’s economic prosperity depends on its ability to sustain a skilled and vibrant workforce. Investing in equitable educational opportunities statewide will contribute to a stronger future for all.
Access to health care varies across the state and may be particularly challenging for people in rural areas, where it is more likely there will be fewer providers. For example, Coos and Sullivan counties have fewer registered mental health providers per person than other counties. The percent of the population without health coverage also varies across counties, ranging from 5 percent uninsured in Rockingham County to nearly 10 percent uninsured in Carroll County.
Additionally, the loss of health care providers in rural areas has reduced access to health care services. The closure of the maternity unit at Lakes Region General Hospital means residents must travel farther distances for certain critical services. Such losses widen the gap in health care access and reduce the availability of jobs in the area.
The state budget increases investment in health care, mental health and developmental disabilities services. Two annual 3.1 percent increases in Medicaid reimbursement rates will enable providers to boost wages slightly, which may help attract and retain workers.
The cost of housing is out of reach for many residents in NH. The challenge is particularly acute for renters. The median household income in 2018 for renters was estimated at $41,000, while median income was more than twice that amount, at around $92,000, for home owners. Approximately 48% of renter households pay more than 30% of their incomes in rent.
Renters with lower incomes often have few resources in terms of savings. A new apartment generally requires upfront costs, such as a security deposit in addition to rent. A lack of resources for these additional costs create a barrier for renters seeking new housing.
The state budget establishes dedicated funding for the Affordable Housing Fund. While the investment pales in comparison to the scale of the housing shortage, it provides new resources to spur housing development. Yet, many areas may struggle to increase their affordable housing stock. Efforts to direct additional resources to local governments for education may help to reduce property taxes, which contribute to the cost of housing.
AnnMarie French is executive director of the NH Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan public-policy research organization based in Concord. Learn more at nhfpi.org.